Community Matters: War Party Ranch

Our Community Matters series is a grassroots approach to supporting those who support the nation—the communities that feed America, build America, and protect America. Our newest story highlight is on War Party Ranch, a nonprofit organization empowering female survivors of abuse to break the cycle and develop transferable, employable skills for the real world of ranching, agriculture, and horsemanship. War Party Ranch teaches women a range of skillsets that help them to protect and provide for themselves in a way that no one else can.

Across the nation, Native Americans are facing a crisis—and no one is talking about it. MMIW stands for missing, murdered Indigenous women. Native women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than any other race of women in our country, says Jeremiah Wilber, co-founder of the nonprofit War Party Ranch. In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing Native women and girls in the United States. The Department of Justice only logged 116 of those cases.

A red handprint covering the mouth has become the symbol of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. It stands for all the missing women and girls whose voices are not heard, and for the silence of media and law enforcement amidst the crisis. For Jeremiah, the silence is deafening. His mother was Mescalero Apache and she devoted much of her life to helping Native women escape abusive households. Fueled by the desire to follow in his mother’s footsteps, Jeremiah started War Party Movement to raise awareness for MMIW and offer a safe environment for all female survivors of abuse to be empowered through support, training, skills, and direct intervention.

It Started with a Movement

Jeremiah grew up in Montana surrounded by the rugged wilderness of the outdoors where he spent most of his childhood hunting and fishing with his father, a cowhand on the Tolman Creek Ranch in Ennis, Montana. His mother, Louise Mountain Lamb Wilber, originally from Dawson, New Mexico, worked closely with the Native communities to reconnect with her heritage and aid in the search and rescue efforts for Indigenous women in dangerous domestic situations. Jeremiah was only four years old when he first witnessed his mother’s strength and bravery at work. We had this little maroon Honda Civic. My mom loaded me up in it and we drove out to this trailer. My mom gets out with this red baseball bat she had and bangs on the trailer door. I remember going inside and hearing some things crashing, my mom yelling, and she comes out with a young Native girl and a baby. They loaded up in the car, we drove off, and my mom took her to a church. That’s all I remember, but that was who my mom was—this badass warrior who wasn’t scared of anything, and my dad was the same way.

Raised with this warrior mindset, Jeremiah joined the military and served for 22 years as a Green Beret. Immediately following his retirement, he began looking for ways to continue serving his community and embody the Special Forces motto of De Oppresso Liber (To Free the Oppressed). In honor of his family and especially his mother, Jeremiah assisted families in Native communities by conducting search and rescue efforts for missing loved ones—but demands grew quickly.

I started helping Native families conduct investigations if their loved ones were missing or murdered. I was trying to help them figure out what happened and connect some of the dots for them. In doing that, I quickly realized I needed a way to fund this. So, I started a t-shirt company called The War Party Movement to offset the cost of traveling and helping these families. I chose the name War Party Movement because a war party is warriors preparing for battle. I added the Movement piece because I look at it as we are all the movement.

As The War Party Movement gained momentum, Jeremiah discovered a subsequent challenge: survivors often had no safe environment to turn to once leaving their abusive household. We needed a long–term solution to help these women permanently escape their abusers and establish an independent life of their own. So, I turned to a dear friend, Mikah, and together we collaborated to create a skills training, rehabilitation, and housing program for the women we rescued. With my warrior background and Mikah’s kind, gritty, no-nonsense approach to problem-solving, we established a much-needed, long–term solution to breaking the cycle of abuse: War Party Ranch.

A Mission to Heal Through Western Skills

Horses brought Jeremiah and Mikah—a horse trainer and riding instructor—together, and the two instantly formed a connection through the desire to expand the efforts of The War Party Movement into something that could offer more long–term aid. Mikah, who had struggled with her own difficult past, was immediately moved by Jeremiah’s work. He shared with me his mission and what he was doing, rescuing these women. That led into the conversation about my past. And I related to him. He’s like, ‘I help to rescue these women, but then sometimes they can go to a safe house for a couple of weeks or a month, and then they have nowhere to go, and they end up right back in the cycle.’ How can we change it? What can we do? Horses had been super therapeutic for Jeremiah. So, it just became this crazy idea that snowballed into what it is now.

Through their partnership and with a team of trainers, instructors, and specialists, Mikah and Jeremiah co-founded War Party Ranch in Kiowa, Colorado, to provide opportunities for women and girls to learn working and life skills that foster independence and self-reliance in all aspects of their lives by creating a community focused on horsemanship, agriculture, hunting, fire arms skills, self-defense, fitness, nutrition, and mental health. They accomplish these goals through clinics, mentorship, sponsorship, and direct intervention designed on an individual basis to give each woman the foundation to heal and work at a level she is comfortable with.

Mikah explains, There are some girls who need a lot of routine and structure, and there are some girls who, it’s a day-to-day challenge for them. Some days they just need to hang out with the horses and some days, we’re on the go, we’re doing events, and we’re going to the gym. We try to create a lot of structure in what they need, but also are sensitive to what they’re going through. There are some girls that don’t handle the craziness of what we do, so we bring everything down to their level and that’s okay. Everybody heals at a different rate.

Andrea's Journey

Andrea is one of War Party Ranch’s current scholarship recipients going through the program. She is a Navajo woman of the Diné tribe, a domestic abuse survivor, and a hunter and archer. At War Party Ranch, she has found a safe place to heal from her trauma and gain back her strength and confidence. I was dealing with being in an unstable relationship and there was nobody really to turn to, she shares. I needed counseling, and I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know how to get assistance, so War Party Ranch assisted me with that. I slowly started witnessing and building myself to be a stronger person.

After gaining back her confidence and mental strength, Andrea worked on her physical strength through hunting and archery. She found the sport to be a healing experience for her trauma as well. An Elk hunt I went on with them in Colorado was about a six-day trip. You're out in the Colorado mountains, camping the whole time. You backpack in with a load carrying about 30 pounds or more. Set up camp. And it rained on us the whole time. It was cold and there was frost, so mentally you have to prepare yourself to just withstand the weather and the different types of conditions you face. Jeremiah can go on for days and days, just walking nonstop. So, keeping up with him and those physical challenges, when you push your body through those challenges and limits, that’s healing for you and things you’ve gone through. When you’re going through those mountains and you’re walking and walking, you’re just thinking about everything. You have to be quiet out there. You have to be silent. It’s a beautiful experience because you did go through bad times, but now you’re in this beautiful place. That was one of the turning points for me—a beautiful opportunity to go hunting.

A Family of Warriors

Today, War Party Ranch has between 50 and 60 women enrolled in the program, and each woman has her own unique journey of healing that Mikah, Jeremiah, and their entire team view with utmost respect. They’re all warriors, they truly are. They’re amazing, says Mikah. I am always dumbfounded to know what they’ve gone through and that they’re still alive and have that fight in them. They have a fight for something good. They have a fight for life.

At the heart of War Party Ranch is a desire to uplift survivors through a safe and supportive environment that breaks the cycle of abuse to create a new path formed by compassion and healthy relationships. Jeremiah, Mikah, and their entire team are focused on building a community that feels like a supportive family for women who may have not experienced that prior to the program. Jeremiah explains, It’s very family oriented. We’re this close tight-knit unit because that’s welcoming and allows them to open up and get out of their shell a little bit.

Mikah also shares that the relationship the trainers have with the women is more like family members supporting one another than a teacher-student relationship. When they’re able to come in and feel comfortable enough to start sharing their stories and the things that they’ve gone through, that’s part of the process. And you can’t help but feel like they’re family when you experience all those things with them, all those emotions. It’s a true healing process.

As War Party Ranch continues to grow, Jeremiah, Mikah, and their team are eager to expand their reach, help more women, and educate more people on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Above all, they want to preserve the safe, close–knit community they have established. I don’t ever want to get too big where we can’t continue to grow and develop relationships in this way, says Jeremiah. To empower these women through that warrior mindset and warrior culture, but also they’re a part of a family, they’re a part of something that’s bigger than all of us.